Writing for herself, Clorinda had no need to explain many of the passing allusions and references she made in writing her memoirs. As they may sometimes be a little opaque to the present reader, they are decoded – as far as possible – here.
a cooling sherbet: a chilled sweetened fruit drink.
a set of state china with my crest upon it: as a Dowager Marchioness, Clorinda would be entitled to display the Bexbury coat of arms and might well have a special set of china painted with them.
singing at Vauxhall: Vauxhall Gardens, Kennington, on the south bank of the Thames, a significant venue for pleasure and entertainment from the late seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century.
he might plead privilege of a peer, that if ‘tis a first offence – save the matter be treason or murder: peers were in theory able to plead privilege of their rank to escape punishment for all crimes except murder or treason if it was a first offence. There are very few instances of this occuring.
to be about prigging snakes: stealing snakes
you may confide that I am born to be hang’d: proverbially, ‘he that is born to be hanged shall never be drowned’.
We know what we are, but not what we may be: Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5: Ophelia’s mad scene.
his dear serpent of Old Hoogly: allusion to Antony’s reference to Cleopatra as his ‘serpent of old Nile’: Calcutta, the administrative capital of the Bengal Presidency, was situated on the banks of the Hooghly River.
goes find a new cicisbeo: the recognised gallant of a married woman: presumed, though not inevitably, platonic.
young women that come to admire fellows for the dangers they have past thro’: Othello, Act I, Scene 3.
an entire cantata out of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia: a choral work resembling an oratorio, a lyric drama set to music but not intended to be acted, based on Dr Johnson’s The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia.
meant in the first place for an orangery or such: a room built on to a fashionable house where orange and other fruit-trees would be protected during the winter.
he may still have a matchet or two about him: a machete, a heavy knife, originating in Central America.
the ladies withdraw for tea and ratafia: a sweet liqueur flavoured with almonds and fruit kernels
has exhibit’d at the Royal Academy Exhibition and she dares says will shortly be admitt’d a Member: The Royal Academy of Arts, f. 1768, has held an Annual Exhibition since 1769. The number of Members - Royal Academicians - was limited to 40.
go visit Winchester and see the Cathedral and the Round Table: the county town of Hampshire with many historic sites, including one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, and, in Winchester Castle, the (purported) Round Table of King Arthur and his knights.
these promis’d charades: a parlour game in which words were acted out syllable by syllable, and then the whole word, sometimes in teams.
in supposition she meant backboards or the like: a device into which young women were strapped in the belief that it would improve their stance and deportment.
one might suppose, from China to Peru: allusion to the opening lines of Dr Johnson’s poem, ‘On the Vanity of Human Wishes’: ‘Let observation, with extensive view,/Survey mankind, from China to Peru’.
shocking climate, a deal of feverish miasmas: disease-bearing vapours: Washington, being built on swampy ground, was indeed a very unhealthy site.
perchance the offspring of one of those customary liaisons: i.e. of an employee of the East India Company with a native bibi.
have some auld acquaintance: allusion to Burns’ well-known poem ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
there turning over the pages of La Belle Assemblée: La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies: a women’s magazine of the period particularly noted for its fine fashion plates
you are almost a tricoteuse of seditious conspiracies: allusion to the Terror during the French Revolution: tricoteuses were the women who sat and observed the executions on the guillotine while knitting.
young ladies ambitious to wear a coronet: i.e. to marry into the aristocracy.
does a fellow go recount tales of the anthropopagi and the men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders: reference to Othello, Act I, Scene 3, and the tales he told Desdemona.
Lord V‑’s pretty handling of the ribbons: his very expert handling of the driving reins.
and then join us for the Music Meetings: these, which became the Three Choirs Festival which still takes place, originated as annual meetings of the cathedral choirs of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester, rotating between the three cathedrals, founded c. 1715 to alleviate the poverty of widows and orphans of the diocese.
some Roman lady said of her children, these are my jewels: according to anecdote, Cornelia Africana, the mother of the Gracchi brothers in Ancient Rome, when questioned by other Roman matrons about her simple plainness of dress, indicated her sons and said, ‘These are my jewels’.
that most entertaining and instructive work by Dr Darwin upon The Loves of the Plants: Erasmus Darwin, physician, poet and scientist (grandfather of Charles): his poem The Loves of the Plants, presented the new Linnean system of botany, in particular its emphasis on sexual reproduction, in highly anthropomorphised form.
give ‘em Mrs Malaprop: the character in Sheridan’s play The Rivals whose comical confusion of similarly sounding words has given English the term malapropism.
not quite in the condition describ’d in Goldsmith’s poem: The Deserted Village.
‘tis a breed entire not’d for the amiability of its nature: Herefords are characteristically docile.
gazebo in the form of a temple of the winds: a domed structure held up by pillars.
will present her at a drawing‑room and ensure she has the entrée at Almacks: presented at Court at a formal Drawing Room at St James’s Palace; Almack’s Assembly Rooms, King Street, St James, London, run by a group of ladies in the very highest society, the Patronesses, and very exclusive: only those who passed their approval were permitted to purchase vouchers admitting them to the weekly balls.
I daresay that you will cry the world must be peopl’d: Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene 3, in Benedick’s soliloquy in which, persuaded that Beatrice is secretly in love with him, he comes to a realisation of his own feelings for her.
has some fears there may even be a visitation: an official visit of inspection into possible abuses by the bishop or his deputy.
that tho’ ‘tis madness, yet there’s method in’t: Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2, Polonius on Hamlet’s apparent madness.
he supposes me soft, mild, pitiful, and flexible according to the purport’d wont of my sex, he will find that I am sure a tiger’s heart wrappt in a woman’s hide: Henry VI Part III, Act I, Scene 4, York’s speech to Queen Margaret
‘tis to be preferr’d to falling into green‑sickness: a disease, chlorosis, believed to afflict young women around the time of puberty, involving lack of energy, general malaise, and sometimes hysteria.
was crimpt aboard some ship bound upon a distant voyage: kidnapped in order to serve as a seaman.
a statue that might drag him down into Hell: the fate of Don Giovanni at the climax of Mozart’s opera.
quite the Mrs Marcet: writer of popular and instructive works on science.
personate actors in the green room afore a first night: the room, or backstage space within a theatre, where actors gather when they are offstage.
when give a tuppence‑colour’d one in card when a child: sheets of sets and characters for toy theatres were widely sold, penny plain, i.e. black and white, twopence coloured.
there is metal more attractive: Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2.
desiring me to plead like Portia: i.e. as effectively as Portia in The Merchant of Venice for Antonio’s life against Shylock’s demand for his pound of flesh.
the quaint knot garden and pleacht walk to their attention, sure one might imagine oneself in a Shakspeare play: knot-gardens are very formally designed gardens within a square frame, usually featuring aromatic herbs and plants, and characteristic of the Tudor era; pleached alleys, in which living branches of trees were intertwined overhead to make a secluded walk, were a device of the same period (a pleached alley figures in Much Ado About Nothing).
he would say you should go lesson yourself with Sir Walter Raleigh: reference to The Discovery of Guiana, by the famous Elizabethan explorer, about his 1595 expedition to South America.
that sonnet of the Bard Oh, how much more does beauty beauteous seem, by that sweet ornament which truth doth give: Sonnet 54.
quite Lady Disdain, but entire without that wit that renders Beatrice so appealing a figure: in Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick’s first greeting to Beatrice, Act I, Scene 1, is ‘What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?’.
Lord D‑ may have been convey’d a phthiriasis by that fine Neapolitan courtesan: infection with pubic lice.
goes tell her about the dangers he has past thro’: allusion to Othello, Act I, Scene 3: ‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed’.
not entirely to my taste to leave Town, I am a sad cockney: a townsperson, a Londoner.
a matter of fie upon this quiet life, I want work!: Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 1, Act 2, Scene 4.
I daresay they all go ask one another But soft, what light from yonder window breaks? and one will respond It is the East, and Sophy is the sun: Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2, the balcony scene.
There is an abominable crime came before him at the last quarter sessions: i.e. homosexual acts.
the cup that chears: William Cowper, in The Task (1784), referring to tea:
And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each.
I am put in great mind of what the lady says in the Scottish play: Macbeth, Act V, Scene 1, Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene: ‘who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him’.
might bring it in manslaughter, that is a verdict for which Your Ladyship might plead the privilege of her rank: it was theoretically possible for members of the peerage to plead privilege of their rank to avoid the penalty for all crimes short of treason or murder.
suppose speeches in Parliament, like unto that famous defence of the French Queen: Edmund Burke’s famous lament over the execution of Marie Antoinette in 1793.
And when I go wash, I do not cry out upon imaginary spots of blood: i.e. like Lady Macbeth when she sleepwalks.
I am not sure I could have been bl‑ – I hold up my hand. No Scottish play, says I: The phrase he was about to quote was presumably ‘bloody, bold and resolute’, from Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 1.
with my card saying PPC: = pour prendre congé, to take leave: an announcement that one was leaving Town.
another essay at Tristram Shandy: Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759).
the stylish red cap of liberty in my closet: Phrygian cap, as associated with the ardour of the French revolution and symbolic of revolutionary fervour.
L.A. Hall, FRHistS